by Jessica Ladin

Got the winter sniffles or blues? There’s an herb for that!

Getting a cold while pregnant or breastfeeding can make this magical time feel anything but magical. And when your child gets a runny nose or a sore throat, you might feel helpless not knowing how to support their body’s natural ability to ward off illness. But you don’t have to suffer through those symptoms! Whether you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have children, or simply want to lean more on natural remedies this winter, there are numerous helpful herbs that have been used for centuries to strengthen the immune system and treat those nagging symptoms so the whole family can be on the mend! 

Throughout the year I enjoy gathering fresh and dried herbs to make into teas, tinctures and salves, to stock my herbal medicine cabinet. But if you get caught off-guard with a cold or flu this winter, find comfort in knowing there are simple remedies you can make right now so that you can help your family get back to health. You can purchase already prepared tinctures for immediate use, or pick up fresh or dried herbs to use in a tea or syrup. If you do not live near a natural foods store that sells bulk herbs and natural remedies, or are too sick to leave your home, ordering online is another option. There are endless herbal remedies, which can make knowing where to start feel overwhelming. This is a small roundup of some of my favorites that have helped my family and friends during the winter months for colds, flu, and emotional support.

Chamomile – 

Benefits: The flowering tops of the chamomile plant contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used internally or externally to promote general relaxation, treat insomnia, ease tension headaches, soothe sore muscles, reduce menstrual cramps, and improve winter skin conditions. It is a gentle herb that can have big effects on the mind and spirit as well, especially during this season when our moods are easily influenced by chilly weather and reduced daylight hours. 

Uses: Chamomile on its own makes a wonderfully soothing caffeine-free tea. It can be sweetened with honey and sipped during the day to calm nervous or anxious adults or children, or in the evening to unwind and aid in restful sleep. I like to make tea that combines chamomile and other gentle herbs for an emotional boost and to calm the nervous system (I use equal parts: chamomile, milky oats, lemon balm, catnip, and lavender).  Alternatively, add concentrated chamomile tea to a warm bath for a simple soak to treat dry itchy winter skin, relax the mind and pamper sore muscles. 

Simple Chamomile Tea:

  • 1 tablespoon chamomile tea
  • 8 ounces hot water
  1. Pour hot water over chamomile tea and let steep 5 minutes.
  2. Strain into your favorite mug and enjoy.

Calming Chamomile Bath:

  • 4-5 heaping teaspoons chamomile
  • 4 cups of water 
  1. Bring about 4 cups of water just to the boil, and then let it cool very slightly (chamomile tea is most beneficial when made from very hot—not boiling—water).
  2. Pour the water over the loose chamomile tea or dried chamomile flowers.
  3. Steep and cool the tea for 15 minutes, then strain, reserving the liquid. Pour the tea into your drawn bath and enjoy a nice long soak.

Echinacea  – 

Benefits: Potent and effective, echinacea root is one of our essential immune-stimulating and infection-fighting botanicals. Use it alone or combine with vitamin C for an excellent cold and flu prevention treatment. It’s been shown in studies to reduce the duration, severity, and recurrence of colds and upper respiratory tract infections. 

Uses: Echinacea is most commonly taken as a tea or tincture, and it works best when taken preventatively (i.e. everyone at work or school is sick) or at the onset of infection. A hot cup of echinacea tea a few times a week can help prevent winter colds and flu. At the first sign of cold or flu, take Echinacea tea or tincture to boost immunity and get better faster. 

Recipe for Echinacea Tea:

  • ¼ cup dried echinacea root
  • (optional for flavor) 1 tsp dried lemongrass
  • (optional for flavor) 1 tsp dried mint leaf
  • 8 ounces boiling water
  1. Mix herbs together and then add 8 ounces boiling water. 
  2. Allow the mixture to steep for 15 minutes.
  3. Enjoy plain or with honey.

Elderberry – 

Benefits: Elderberries are high in both vitamins A and C, contain powerful antiviral properties, and play a key role in immune system health. Though most often used for colds and flu, it is also useful for upper respiratory infections. Studies have shown that elderberry extract can significantly lower duration of influenza while lowering the need for medication, when compared with placebo. 

Uses: My favorite ways to use elderberry is in tincture and syrup form, starting at the earliest signs of sickness. The usual dose for this is 3 tablespoons of syrup per day for adults (3 teaspoons/day for kids > 2 years old), given in smaller doses every hour. Of course, also seek appropriate medical care if you think you have the flu.

Recipe for Elderberry Syrup (adapted from various recipes—you can also keep it simple with purely elderberries, water and honey):

  • ½ cup dried elderberries
  • 1 tsp dried rose hips
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp dried elder flowers
  • 2 cups water
  •  ½ cup raw local honey
  1. Place berries in saucepan and cover with water.
  2. Simmer over low heat for about 1 hour.
  3. Mash the berries in the pan.
  4. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a glass jar.
  5. Allow mixture to cool slightly and then add honey (don’t add when HOT – heat destroys medicinal properties of honey).
  6. Store in the refrigerator (syrup will keep 2-3 months).

Ginger – 

Benefits: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and stimulates the immune system to kill viruses. The root (rhizome) of the ginger plant has been consumed for medicinal purposes for thousands of years to warm the body, beat nausea, comfort a sore throat, reduce aches and pains, for digestive symptoms, and to lift your mood. 

Uses: Ginger can be used fresh or powdered, juiced raw to add to smoothies, or steeped as a tea. Consume ginger when you get a cold or sore throat, and generally add to recipes to stimulate your immune and digestive systems. Drink a cup of tea to warm up on a very cold day or increase serotonin levels and give your mind and spirit a fresh start. When you have a cold, drink three or more cups daily until you are well.

Recipe for Ginger Tea:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated or sliced ginger root
  • 2 cups hot water
  1. Steep ginger in hot water, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Strain and enjoy! (Optional: add a slice of lemon and a spoonful of raw honey.)

Recipe for Ginger Infused Honey:

  • 1 pint mason jar
  • raw local honey
  • 3-4 inches of fresh ginger root
  1. Peel the ginger (optional) then slice thinly. 
  2. Place sliced ginger in the jar and cover with honey.  Stir to push the air bubbles out. Cap the jar.
  3. Let the jar sit for 4-6 weeks to infuse, stirring daily to push out air bubbles and then recapping. Then use the honey any way you would enjoy regular honey. Eat the ginger slices when you need a boost or if you feel a cold coming on.

Fire Cider – 

Benefits:  The base for fire cider begins with apple cider vinegar—vinegar is one of our oldest foods and medicines. Fire cider is a traditional herbal remedy made from nutritional powerhouses like apple cider vinegar, horseradish, ginger, onion and garlic.  It is tasty, tart, sour, hot, warming, and decongesting. This nourishing and stimulating concoction can boost energy, ward off colds and flus, ease sinus congestion, lower blood sugar, and curb cravings. Because this is a folk remedy, the ingredients can change according to what is growing around you and when you make it. There are endless recipes for fire cider and the ingredients included enhance the benefits.

Uses: Fire Cider has been used to boost the immune system, aid digestion, and to help aid the upper respiratory system. A small shot glass daily is an excellent tonic; or if you feel a cold coming on take it by the teaspoon several times throughout the day. It is also delicious drizzled on a salad with good olive oil.

Recipe for Rosemary Gladstar’s Fire Cider:

  • raw organic apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup grated fresh horseradish root
  • ½ cup or more fresh chopped onions
  • ¼ cup or more chopped garlic
  • ½ cup or more grated ginger
  • chopped fresh or dried cayenne pepper to taste* (*should be hot, but not so you can’t tolerate it)
  • raw local honey
  • optional ingredients: turmeric, echinacea, cinnamon, sliced lemon, sliced orange, elderberry, etc.
  1. Place the herbs in a half-gallon jar and cover with enough raw apple cider vinegar to cover herbs by at least 3 inches. Cover with a tight fitting lid. 
  2. Place the jar in a warm place and let it sit for 3-4 weeks. Shake every day to help maceration process. 
  3. After 3-4 weeks, strain out herbs, and reserve the liquid—this is your Fire Cider.
  4. Add honey ‘to taste’ (your Fire Cider should taste hot, spicy, sweet, and pungent). Warm the honey first so it mixes well.  
  5. Fire Cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry, or store in the refrigerator for longer shelf life.